North Korea Is Becoming More Assertive—And That's A Big Mistake For Kim

Gordon G. Chang

Key point: Something must be wrong internally.

North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un late last month promised to “shift to a shocking actual action”; hinted he would no longer honor a “commitment” to a testing moratorium; and “confirmed that the world will witness a new strategic weapon.” There was also a reference to “the ultra-modern weapon system.”

Kim’s threats were delivered during the four-day 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, which ended December 31.

Pyongyang, no doubt, is entering into a far more assertive phase. Given the overall situation, that would undoubtedly be a grave mistake for the regime. When regimes make grave mistakes, something must be wrong internally.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the middle of May 2018 has enjoyed an especially benign external environment. Among other things, the United States during this period has either not been enforcing North Korea sanctions or enforcing them only half-heartedly.

President Donald Trump has, for instance, been looking the other way at prohibited ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas and at the open criminal activity of money-laundering Chinese banks taking place on American soil. As a result, Kim has been getting all the money he needs to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons and has, consequently, been making rapid progress on both.

As Trump makes these and other concessions, Kim has been making none. This has to be one of the best periods in DPRK diplomacy. When a ruling group obtains good results, it should not be rocking the boat with attention-grabbing threats.

So why is Kim making such menacing comments? He has repeatedly promised to both the North Korean public and regime members that he would win complete removal of the sanctions. As David Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted in e-mail comments to his distribution list, “dignity” is a “key word” in Kim’s recent remarks.

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